Missed an episode of Chatfuel School—our podcast where we cover hot topics in the world of bot-building and marketing? Don't worry; we took notes for you. 🤓 The topic for May 27, 2020 was how nonprofits can use chatbots to expand their impact. We brought in two Chatfuel nonprofit customers to share their stories: Tony Morain of Direct Relief and Raul Machuca of Cars for Kids. Here's the full episode. 👇 Keep scrolling for a recap of what you missed.

You probably already know that conversational marketing is a powerful tool for businesses. But nonprofits stand to benefit from it too. Think about it: When charities need a sizable donation, they send someone to chat with major donors. Most nonprofit organizations have a dedicated major-gifts officer just for this purpose: to solicit donations using warm, personalized, back-and-forth conversation.

While chatbots aren't intended to replace human agents, they can apply that power of conversation to a wider audience. A Messenger chatbot can help nonprofits:

  • attract new donors and volunteers
  • increase donations and streamline fundraising efforts
  • automate processes to save time
  • gain support for their cause so they can expand their impact

Through Bots for Good (our 1:1 matching program for charities), we have over one hundred nonprofits using Chatfuel for all of the above. We spoke to two organizations on this episode of Chatfuel School to dig into how their nonprofits are using chatbots to benefit their missions. First we'll cover what we learned about Direct Relief's bot from their Communications Director Tony Morain. Then we'll summarize what Cars for Kids Media Director Raul Machuca told us about their bot.

About Direct Relief ⛑️

Direct Relief is an international nonprofit that helps vulnerable communities around the world get supplies and medical aid. Their mission is to "improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies—without regard to politics, religion, or ability to pay." Direct Relief is active in all 50 US states and over 80 countries. In this episode of Chatfuel School, Direct Relief's Communications Director Tony Morain explained the organization's key challenges, and how they used a Chatfuel bot to solve them.

A Direct Relief volunteer providing aid to victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Direct Relief.

The key challenge for Direct Relief

Like many organizations, Direct Relief was inundated with messages on Facebook. Their staff was overwhelmed and their response times were slow, especially during emergencies when they typically see a spike in messages. For a business, a delayed response can mean a lost sale. For a charity like Direct Relief, a delayed response can mean a community in need not getting crucial aid or supplies in time. Their team knew they needed a way to automate responses.

The Direct Relief chatbot

Tony explained that it was during the 2017 hurricane season when Direct Relief realized they needed a solution for automation of replies to incoming messages. He explains, "We were at a crossroads: We either needed to hire probably ten customer service representatives, or figure out a way to work smarter. And that's when Facebook recommended we check out Chatfuel."

Tony and his team were able to build a Facebook Messenger bot, fast. "In a few days, we were able to get a prototype out that really alleviated the workload. We've been using it ever since, iterating along the way." He was pleasantly surprised at how simple the bot-building process really is: "This was so much easier than we thought it would be," he says.

Now, their chatbot is a robust resource for those who need Direct Relief's help, and those who want to contribute to their mission. The best part: Their customer response time went from several days to under a minute. When it comes to speed of customer service, "consumer expectations have grown so much," Tony tells us, "and that extends to the charity space as well." Now, anyone who needs support or information from Direct Relief can get it immediately. "The future of philanthropy is good customer service," Tony predicts, which means chatbots are a powerful way forward. You can chat with the Direct Relief bot here.

The Direct Relief bot helps those who need aid from the charity, and those who want to support its mission.
"The future of philanthropy is good customer service." –Tony Morain, Communications Director at Direct Relief

As Tony mentioned, the Direct Relief bot has evolved over time. He points out two important features they've added more recently:

  • Multilingual support 🌏 Direct Relief needs to communicate with people and organizations around the world. A Facebook Messenger chatbot that can only communicate in English was limiting for them. To solve this problem, they integrated Dialogflow, Google's artificial intelligence tool, into the bot. (You can do this with the free Janis template available in the Chatfuel dashboard.) Their AI chatbot can now interact with users in multiple languages.
  • RSS feeds 📣 When it comes to nonprofit organizations, Tony points out that "the person who pays for the work [the donor] isn't the person who necessarily benefits from it. So what they're getting is the report of what their money has done." That's why sharing news and stories about their work is important for Direct Relief. They do this seamlessly with their bot. They use the JSON API to fetch the latest updates from their website. (You could also use the RSS Import plugin.) That way, supporters can easily stay informed, and the Direct Relief team never has to manually update that part of the bot as things change.

Since they created their own bot, Direct Relief has also submitted a template to the Chatfuel dashboard for any nonprofit to use. "I want other people to realize that it's far easier than it might appear from the outside to create something that works and that can save a charity resources," Tony shares.

To access the nonprofit chatbot template, log in to your Chatfuel dashboard. Load the template, customize it with your organization's information, and you'll be ready to launch!
"I want other people to realize that it's far easier than it might appear from the outside to create something that works and that can save a charity resources." –Tony Morain, Communications Director at Direct Relief

A nonprofit-bot success story

Direct Relief's nonprofit bot doesn't just save the organization time and resources. It also directly helps them get aid to those in need. Tony shared a story about how Unilever and Dove ran a recent marketing campaign to highlight the courage of healthcare workers during COVID-19. The ad mentions that both brands support Direct Relief.

A clinic in Louisiana saw the ad. It was in the early days of the pandemic, when a lot of store shelves were bare. The clinic desperately needed soap, and reached out to the Direct Relief bot to ask for help. Because of the way the chatbot is designed, it elevated the request to the right person immediately, and Direct Relief helped the clinic get their soap in two days. Stories like this "happen every week," says Tony.

About Cars for Kids 🚗

Cars for Kids is a Texas-based nonprofit organization that does fundraising for schools in a creative way: by auctioning donated cars, trucks, motorcycles, RVs, and other vehicles. They use 100% of the proceeds to fund education for at-risk students at the Texans Can! charter school. Cars for Kids's Media Director Raul Machuca joined us on this episode of Chatfuel School to talk about the organization's new Chatfuel Messenger chatbot.

Students whose education was supported by Cars for Kids funds celebrate their graduation. Photo courtesy of Cars for Kids.

The key challenge for Cars for Kids

Cars for Kids faced a similar challenge to Direct Relief: Not enough resources to respond to users on Facebook. While their Messenger inbox was always full, it was the comments on their Facebook posts that were really unmanageable for the Cars for Kids team.

The reason: The COVID-19 pandemic forced the charity to completely shut down their in-person car auctions. They knew they had to make it easier for people to participate in the auctions online. Otherwise, they'd risk not having enough donations to fund their school projects. So they began running the show live through Facebook. These auctions were getting tens of thousands of views—which meant thousands of comments, too. Cars for Kids needed a way to streamline all the questions they were getting in the comments—and that's where their chatbot comes in.

The live auctions that Cars for Kids runs on Facebook routinely get thousands of comments. They created a bot to automatically respond to these comments for them.

The Cars for Kids chatbot

Raul and his team had no trouble deciding what kind of content to add to their new nonprofit chatbot's flow. They looked through the messages in their inbox and the comments on their posts and picked out the questions that came up most often. From there, it was easy to map out a chatbot flow that could address these inquiries.

The top priority was to set up their bot to auto-respond to comments on their live Facebook auctions. They used Chatfuel's Comment Acquisition tool (now the Comments Autoreply Entry Point) for this. If the comment includes a keyword that shows intent to participate in the auction, the bot instantly sends that person the relevant information. Raul shares: "We were able to increase the conversion rate from Facebook to the auction portal significantly just in one week." He also tells us that the average sale price of cars in the auction went up as soon as they launched the Chatfuel bot. That's more money the organization can now spend on the kids they support, all thanks to a chatbot!

The Cars for Kids chatbot lets users make direct donations or participate in one of their car auctions.

Speeding up their response time in general was a major win for the Cars for Kids team. "Going from a two-hour response time to instant responses—it makes a very big difference," explains Raul. But automation through the bot has helped them increase donations too—both directly, and through the auction. "One of the problems we were running into in the past was: We were losing warm leads because of the time it took us to respond to that particular person."

So whether it's via direct message or the Comment Acquisition autoreplies, people interested in supporting Cars for Kids can now get assistance immediately. "I think [the bot] is a great solution for us to be able to provide data and information to the users, but also to maintain that relationship with them," says Raul. You can chat with the Cars for Kids bot here.

"Going from a two-hour response time to instant responses—it makes a very big difference." –Raul Machuca, Media Director at Cars for Kids

Nonprofits react to Facebook Novi

This Chatfuel School episode aired the day after Facebook introduced Novi, their new digital wallet for Libra currency. It'll be available on Facebook Messenger in the future, so "sending money will be as easy as sending a message," according to Facebook. We asked Raul and Tony for their thoughts on what Novi will mean for charities like theirs.


Raul predicts that this tool will allow Facebook users to donate even more seamlessly. "It just seems like the future of nonprofits," he says. Tony agrees, and points out that Facebook's 0% processing fees are a major help to nonprofits too. "If you donate $1 via Facebook, $1 goes to the charity. It saves nonprofits a ton." Tony also highlights how Novi will make global donations even easier. "I love the idea that this will be a new way to do it in Messenger, which will open it up to people across borders. Hopefully that will facilitate more donations of small amounts, which are really important too."

How to launch a bot for your nonprofit

If you're interested in harnessing the power of a Facebook Messenger bot for a nonprofit you're involved with, apply for our Bots for Good program! It's a 1:1 matching program, which means we'll double the number of chatbot users on your plan for free. It's our way of supporting the good work you're doing in the world. Learn more about what a chatbot can do for your nonprofit; then apply for the program here.